By Sharon Faliya Cham
Just like that, without defining her status as to whether she sees herself as the global police or the global judiciary or the global arbiter of matters concerning nations of the earth, or whether she sees herself as the ruling monarch over all nations to which they must all account and bow to, the United States of America recently concocted and publicized a list of countries she sees as places where there is religious persecutions, or places with limited religious freedoms, which she arrogantly named as Special Watch List (SWL). With that concoction, you will think the United States of America that prides herself as the harbinger of liberties and democracy is a sweet smell of roses when it comes to championing religious freedoms and other liberties, titles she has woefully thrown away by her recent actions, particularly in the last 3 years!
If the United States of America cares at all about religious persecutions and religious freedoms, then shouldn’t she have put herself as number one on her so called Special Watch List based on the travel ban she placed on certain Muslim nations from traveling into the USA in January 2017? If that’s not religious persecution, then what else is? The so called travel ban was purportedly done to forestall Islamic terrorism but the lie and hypocrisy of it all was, since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York, there has been no such terror attack associated with foreign Islamists in America again. Almost all the subsequent terrorist attacks within the US were pulled by either neo-Nazi White Supremacists or some other criminally minded individuals usually termed as ‘mentally ill’ by government officials, and the terror attacks are usually either on Christians worshipping in churches or Jews worshipping in their synagogues, with the recent ones being on Friday, December 27, 2019 when Jews celebrating the feast of Hanukkah in the home of a Rabbi in New York were attacked, and on Sunday, December 29, 2019 when a gunman entered a Texas church and opened fire on Christian worshippers. And this is without even counting the regular gun attacks on schools, night clubs and other relaxation spots in the US by armed individuals!
Besides, another glaring hypocrisy and contradiction of the travel ban was the fact that, all the Arab Muslim nations, specifically Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where the September 11, 2001 terrorist attackers came from were carefully excluded from the travel ban, to which analysts and observers were quick to point out that it could perhaps be because the current President of the United States has huge investments there, apart from the very lucrative business relationship between America and Saudi Arabia. Which therefore begs this question: Is this not a persecution of certain Muslims for the alleged crimes of some other Muslims by the United States of America?
And when the Buddhist nation of Myanmar engaged in the wholesale genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 to the horror of all people of good conscience across the world, where was the voice of America and what action did she even take to help bring justice to the victims? While almost all the so called champions of religious freedoms looked away after mumbling just a few words of condemnations, it was the little West African country of Gambia that recently sued the leadership and nation of Myanmar at the International Criminal Court of Justice for genocide against the Rohingya. Or didn’t the United States of America consider what happened in Myanmar as religious persecution?
Curiously also, at the exact time the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published the so called Special Watch List, there were ongoing riots that led to loss of several lives in India over a discriminatory law passed by the Hindu dominated government that forbids citizenship for migrant Muslims while allowing it for other migrants, especially Hindus, but India was not included in the so called list. Was that discriminatory law not considered by the United States as religious persecution apart from the fact that it completely violates all tenets of democracy, which she also always claims to be championing across the world or is it because there is an ongoing construction of the famous Trump Towers in India that induced the escape of India from the list?
Again, back in the United States of America herself, apart from the increasing cases of persecution of Jews, Christians and Muslims by racist neo-Nazi White Supremacists and other criminal groups and persons often resulting in murders and desecration of their tombs and cemeteries, there is also an ongoing official persecution of helpless immigrant Mexicans and other Latinos who are fleeing cruel crime gangs and harsh economic situations in their home countries, such that President Trump’s immigration officials cruelly yank babies from the backs of their fleeing mothers and put them in cages, reminiscent of the horrors Hitler’s Nazi Germany subjected the Jews to. So therefore, with such record level of cruel, inhuman persecution of minorities and religious groups in the United States, what gives America, especially under the Trump administration, the moral right to think she can draw up a list of countries she assumes lack religious freedoms without putting herself on top of the list? Is there something we need to know but we are not being told?
Well, I think it is pretty easy to figure out that the Trump administration badly needs to create certain scenarios across the globe that will, or could, deflect both local and global attention from very embarrassing domestic problems the administration is drenched in, especially in an election year like this one, and that’s apart from the very apparent loss of global influence and power America now suffers from, which is largely occasioned by the lack of trust and confidence America’s traditional allies have for the Trump administration because of his erratic, eccentric, impulsive and disruptive behaviour, and that’s even besides his well known near-zero fidelity to the truth without even mentioning his equally well known hate mongering credentials!
Smarting from the embarrassment of failure to execute a coup to topple President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in the middle of 2019, to the global shame it faced when she put Latino refugees babies in cages, to the cold shoulder she received from her allies in May 2018 when she unilaterally revoked the Iran denuclearization agreement that was successfully negotiated by the Obama administration, to the global criticisms she received when she unilaterally and abruptly pulled out of Syria and abandoned the Kurds that were fighting with them against ISIS to their fate, to the shame of foreign NATO allies whose leaders were recorded on video at the December 2019 London NATO Summit mocking him, to the shame and embarrassment of having a President that insults and fights everyone on Twitter, including even teenagers like Greta Thunberg the popular female climate change activist, to the ugly spectacle of being impeached by the US House of Representatives before Christmas 2019, and then to the embarrassing manner North Korea’s Kim Jung Un played Trump for two years like game in diplomacy, and ended up ridiculing him last December with an open threat to resume nuclear missiles tests, it is understandable why a US administration that is so deficient in credibility both at home and abroad will want to alter the course of public discourse just to save face, even if it means creating crisis elsewhere and stoking war in the Middle East!
As things stand today, America is not a role model for anything noble or worthwhile. In 2018, she arrogantly announced that she will not be part of the International Criminal Court of Justice, and neither will she be bound by any of its decisions, which is a great setback to her often repeated claim of champion advocate of democracy and the rule of law across the world. And when Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi was brutally murdered, dismembered and his body parts stuffed in a bag in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, the Trump administration looked away, which also derobes America of her so called champion status of press freedom. Well, in any case, President Trump is known to have great contempt and disdain for the media.
Worse still, what democracy, transparency and rule of law will America preach and promote to the rest of the world when the Trump administration has bluntly disobeyed lawful subpoenas from the US Congress to send documents and witnesses to testify over the salacious Ukrainian military aid scandal for which he got impeached by the House of Representatives? Nothing! Absolutely nothing, unless they are going to preach another version of democracy that does not recognize the Congress or Parliament to make laws and exercise oversight over the other two branches of government. And that’s another name for dictatorship, which is exactly what the Trump administration wants and it is being aided and abetted towards that goal by Republican members of Congress who are bluntly aiding their President to make the Congress, which they are members of, powerless and worthless. Simply put, as things stand today in the United States, America can no longer preach integrity, probity, accountability, morality, democracy and the rule of law to the rest of the world because of the severe decline of these values in the Trump administration!
But then, back home here in Nigeria, America has an ally in this show of lies and shame. Like a hungry kid glancing around to grab whatever seems like a feeding bottle to stick in its mouth, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and their fringe associates embraced the naming of Nigeria by America among her Special Watch List, and then turned it into their customary songs of pathos and bathos, which are always neither here nor there. According to them, it is true that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria, especially in the northern part of the country. They always cite as evidence the periodic mutual killings between farmers and Fulani herders in Southern Kaduna, and parts of Plateau, Benue and Taraba states. Each time a crisis like that erupts, they quickly attribute it to religion; that it’s part of an agenda by Muslims to Islamize the country!
They also always claim that Christians in the north are always denied land and Certificates of Occupancy to build churches, which always leaves any widely traveled observer to wonder whether the solid church buildings that dot all the capitals and major towns of all the northern states are built on air and not on land. And if the issuance of Certificates of Occupancy by state governments for the building of worship centers is part of what defines religious freedom, then the best way for CAN to win this argument is for them to gather copies of all the Certificates of Occupancy of all the churches in southern Nigeria, and present them to the media and the public as evidence of the unfettered freedom Christianity enjoys in the ”Christian South”. Or, to further make a very compelling case against the Muslim north on this frequent claim about denials of Certificates of Occupancy for the building of churches in the north, CAN should as well use northern (Middle Belt) states like Benue, Plateau and Taraba who are always governed (during democracy) by Christian governors as an example by showing to the media and the public the Certificates of Occupancy issued to all the churches in those states by the governors!
And for effect, they can as well get copies of the Certificates of Occupancy granted Muslims in southern Nigeria and the ”Middle Belt” to build mosques as evidence of the unfettered freedom Muslims enjoy in the south and the ”Middle Belt”, contrary to the ”persecutions” Christians suffer in the Muslim north. And while at it, they can also do well by engaging the services of smart detectives to get them copies of the Certificates of Occupancy granted strictly to Muslims by Muslim northern states for the building of mosques while Christians are denied same. That’s how this argument can be won in a country like Nigeria where lies, propaganda and false claims of victimization have become the order of the day in our relationships.
Another area of propaganda by CAN about religious persecution in Nigeria is the religious motives often selectively attributed to certain conflicts in northern Nigeria by them. For example, when more than 1,000 Fulani herders were massacred at the Mambila region of Taraba State by a certain ethnic group in June 2017, CAN issued a statement that religious motives should not be attributed to the massacre. Again, when more than 50 Fulani women and children were massacred at their settlement near Numan in Adamawa State in November 2017 by some Bachama ethnic militia, the same CAN also said religious motives should not be attributed to the massacre. But when the Fulani herders began to take vengeance, CAN alongside their fringe groups began to sing their usual Islamization Agenda song, very much like what they always say about similar cases in Benue, Plateau and Taraba states, as well as in Southern Kaduna.
Which then begs the question: At what point should a particular religion in Nigeria claim it is being persecuted by killings of its members by adherents of another religion? Is it when Fulani herders are killed in their thousands in Taraba by an ethnic group, or is it when 72 corpses said to be victims of Fulani herders are buried in an elaborate ceremony in Benue State with all the trappings of propaganda? Or is it when the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups are at their seemingly unending war, killing each other in hundreds, and which CAN is always silent without doing anything to mediate? How about the mass killings and mass displacement of people by Fulani armed bandits in Muslim states of Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and parts of Kaduna State? Are they also Christians being persecuted and killed by Jihadists for the purpose of Islamizing Nigeria? And how about the uncountable attacks of churches and killings of worshippers in southern Nigeria by armed cultists and other criminal groups, including the kidnappings and murders of Christian clerics, which have been going on since 2012? Are they also a persecution of Christians by Muslims for the Islamization of the country? Simply put, is CAN arrogating to itself the power to singularly determine when a crisis is religious and when it is not?
Who is persecuting who in Nigeria when you look at the way so called Christian clerics freely mount their bully pulpits to insult and issue prophecies of death against a Muslim President or Muslim Governor without being arrested and charged for hate speech and incitement of violence? And who is persecuting who in Nigeria when Christian clerics can wage campaigns for the freedom of a cantankerous Muslim cleric that was arrested for breach of public peace in a Muslim city, but the same Christian clerics will always wage vehement opposition against the democratic freedom of female Muslims to dress in ways that are consistent with their faith in schools and colleges in certain parts of the country, or even in certain professions?
Should democracy and the rule of law only be mouthed when agitating on behalf of detained crooks and violent people but not for Muslims to dress the way they like? Again, who is persecuting who when even a strident, noisy campaign can be waged against the democratic rights of Muslims to establish an interest-free bank, consistent with their faith when no one has stopped you from establishing your own bank, consistent with your own faith? Or should the tenets of democracy, which we always mouth at the slightest opportunity, be selectively applied when it only suits us?
Again, who is persecuting who when kidnappers from Southeastern Nigeria can freely come to Kano, Gombe and Sokoto states, abduct scores of kids, take them to the Southeast, and then convert them without their consent from their Islamic faith with new names to boot? Didn’t we scream and shout persecution when a teenage girl called Ese Oruru from Bayelsa State followed her teenage Hausa Muslim lover to Kano in 2016 and even married him without the knowledge and consent of her parents? So then, does the definition of persecution cover all cases of persecution and injustice or does it have a selective definition?
If we all take a trip back to the Northeast, the hotbed of ”Boko Haram” activities, who are the major victims of their bloody activities since 2009 till date? Of the 2 million refugees still living in camps, how many are Christians and how many are Muslims? Do we even need to recall the days of their heavy bombing campaigns in Kano, Gombe, Yola, Mubi, Bauchi, Azare, Misau, Abuja, Jos, Zaria, Kaduna, Damaturu, Potiskum, Maiduguri, Mubi, Alkaleri and many other northern towns and cities and figure out the ratio of Muslim to Christian victims of the insurgents? How many men and women in total did the insurgents abduct in the Northeast, and who are the major victims? Because certain groups are adept at making noise and playing the victim card at any opportunity of crisis due to media bias doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most victimized, it could just as well be the opposite.
As part of his speech of embrace of the listless list by the United States of America, the President of CAN Rev. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle repeated the warped claim of his association that part of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is the lack of appointment of Christians in key positions of government in the Buhari administration, and one is left wondering what he actually means by key appointments, and whether he is living in another planet or whether he is so completely inured from reality and truth by his association’s constant persecution of this President with their tireless barrage of lies and mischief, so much that he has completely forgotten yesterday and today?
As a little reminder, wasn’t it like yesterday when Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was President of this country, and his Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Director General of the NIA, Director General of the DSS, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, and the Chief of Staff to the President were all Christians? Did CAN hear Muslims screaming and shouting about such brazenly shameless lopsidedness? Even when President Jonathan, out of pettiness and vengeance, unlawfully sacked Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank and replaced him with a Christian from his Niger Delta region, did CAN hear Muslims complain? And we aren’t even talking about the fact that, at that time, the President of the Senate, the Deputy President of the Senate and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives were all Christians, apart from other principal officers of the National Assembly!
If CAN is not being mischievous and dishonest, why can’t they even recognize that President Muhammadu Buhari is fairer to Christians in his appointments than any previous Christian President was to Muslims? The same Christian Central Bank Governor appointed by Jonathan has been retained by him for five years now, and his Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Naval Staff are all Christians, and these are all key appointments. So, what does CAN actually want? Or does CAN think because President Jonathan did the most lopsided appointments in history, Nigeria therefore belongs to only one religion that must corner all key positions of government, so much that because President Buhari has balanced it up in a most fair manner they are now persecuting him with the fiction of persecution of Christians?
The issues only need to be looked at and analyzed factually and truthfully based on what everybody can see, and not on some hysterical outbursts that are always influenced by sentiments and feelings of inferiority complex. However, it is a major weakness on the part of the Buhari administration to have allowed enemies of the administration to gain the upper hand in information warfare, especially overseas. By not rising to the occasion to dispatch a solid delegation of envoys comprising truthful religious leaders, intellectuals, media professionals, youth and women representatives and some government officials to tour the globe, and meet with all the groups and influential persons T.Y. Danjuma and his team of mischief were meeting since 2018 to sell them those lies of persecution in Nigeria, the administration unwittingly ceded its enemies the privilege and power to market fake news against it. Even back home in Nigeria, the administration is not aggressive enough in the dissemination of information that can counter the endless stream of misinformation warfare its enemies are waging against it. It must sit up, restrategise and win the war of information dissemination or continue to risk being overwhelmed by Nigeria’s criminal class with their lies and endless stream of fake news.